-- Farewell, at last, to tallyho. After seven years of angry debate, frustrated motions and legislative maneuvering, Britain's Parliament finally approved a ban on fox hunting Thursday, heralding the likely end of an English tradition that's more than 300 years old.
The ban's champions, most of them members of the ruling Labor Party, applauded the ban as a blow against animal cruelty and, not so coincidentally, against the upper classes who revere the sport. But fox hunters and their supporters said the act would harm the already fragile economy of rural England and speed the demise of a traditional way of life.
Hunt supporters pledged to appeal the ban to Britain's High Court, challenging the validity of the law under which it was enacted and also claiming that the measure is a violation of their human rights. Many promised to engage in civil disobedience if the ban, which takes effect in February, is not overturned.
The measure was passed after surviving attempts at a compromise by the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has always dismissed the ban as an insignificant matter, defying majority sentiment in his own party. Blair has prevailed in the past in putting off a ban, but this year he has been weakened politically by his staunch support for the Bush administration, which is deeply unpopular with Labor Party members.
Blair's first proposal, which would have required hunts to be licensed, was defeated earlier this week, and the House of Commons went on to pass a full ban, to take effect in three months. The government then proposed a three-year delay, but the camber agreed earlier Thursday only to 18 months. The amended measure was then defeated in the House of Lords, the unelected upper house of Parliament, which opposes any ban on fox hunting.
Michael Martin, the speaker of the House of Commons, then invoked the 1949 Parliament Act, which gives the chamber final authority on measures it has passed two years in a row. It was only the fourth time since 1949 that the act has been invoked.
Martin wore a large grin as he sought to read aloud the ornate language sent from the House of Lords informing him of its rejection. "I read these messages -- I don't understand them," he told the House of Commons to much laughter.
Labor ministers said the House of Lords had erred in voting down the compromise 18-month delay. "They have behaved like turkeys voting for Christmas," Alan Michael, the minister for rural affairs, told the House of Commons.
Despite the fact that only a few thousand people engage in fox hunting, the proposed ban had been a matter of bitter debate here. Hunt supporters invaded the House of Commons several weeks ago, dousing Blair in a harmless purple powder as a protest. Others have dogged cabinet ministers throughout England, blocking their vehicles and disrupting speeches. Dozens protested Thursday night outside Windsor Castle, where Queen Elizabeth was hosting a banquet for Jacques Chirac, the visiting French president.
James Gray, the Conservative Party environment spokesman who labeled the measure "disgraceful, prejudiced and ignorant," told lawmakers that the ban would send a clear message to the countryside: "Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war."
Blair said at a news conference that he regretted the way the ban passed. "I think probably, despite the very passionate views on either side of this debate, the majority of people would have preferred to have seen a compromise accepted," he said.